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THIRTY-TWO YEARS WITH ALEXANDER VI
In a note on Alexander VI appended to my translation of Godfrey
Kurth's famous lectures, The Church at the Turning Points of History, I
stated that "Rev. P. De Roo, author of the History of America before Co-
lumbus, maintains that the verdict of history regarding Alexander VI
should be entirely reversed, that the case of the Pontiff is an astonishing
instance of complete calumniation by authors who wrote shortly after his
death and that Father De Roo was preparing a Life of Alexander VI in
which he promised to prove his contentions by means of hitherto unstudied
documents, chiefly from the secret archives of the Vatican."
Since the publication of The Church at the Turning Points of History
letters of inquiry from professors and students of history have repeatedly
come to me asking about the progress of Father De Roo's work on Alex-
ander VI. Seeing that the matter was becoming of general interest I
decided to interview the author, and was authorized by him to make the
announcement that he had completed a five volume work on the subject,
and is trying now to arrange for its publication. In my interview with
Father De Roo I learned in detail how the book came into being and how
the pastor of a small town in distant Oregon conceived the idea of this
gigantic undertaking and carried it to completion.
Returning from a vacation trip in Europe in 1887, Father De Roo de-
livered a lecture on Spiritualism in the church of one of his friends at
Williamantic, Connecticut. The lecture which had been previously an-
nounced was well attended and reported by a Willimantic daily on the fol-
lowing day. About a week later the same paper published a reply to the
lecture by the celebrated grammarian, Greene, of New York. A three
months' controversy ensued from which the Professor withdrew with the
"fiiendly advice that Father De Roo leave the mediums alone and give his
attention rather to bad popes, for instance, Alexander VI."
Father De Roo accepted the challenge and wrote two articles in defense
of Alexander VI. The controversy had merely whetted the appetite of the
Pastor of Pendleton, Oregon, and he asked his Ordinary, Most Rev. Wil-
liam H. Gross, for an extended leave of absence abroad that he might
study the original documents concerning Alexander VI. The scholarly
archbishop graciously consented and Father De Roo set out for Rome in
the summer of 1889.
Father De Roo commenced his work of research in the Eternal City in
the fall of the same year. Having obtained a passcard to the archives of
the Vatican he went to his task with the earnest and single purpose of
getting at the facts, whatever these might be, good or bad. But he soon
came to the sad realization that his seemed a hopeless task, because his
general passcard did not admit him to the archives which interested him
the most — those concerning the reign of Alexander VL Undaunted by the
fixed policy of the Vatican authorities of that day, he put his case before
the custodian of the archives and boldly asked for access to the secret ar-
chives on Alexander VI. Cardinal Hergenroether, the wel^ known histo-
rian, acceded to his request. This valuable permission put within the
reach of Father De Roo the one hundred and eight volumes of records of
the Bulls and Briefs of Pope Alexander VI, besides records of other Popes
bearing on the history of the same Pontiff.
Armed with this singular authorization he began to delve into the
dormant documents of Alexander VI, with renewed hope and energy, in
search of the authentic facts concerning the boyhood and youth, the cardi-
nalate, and papacy of the notorious Pontiff.
He kept at the work for two consecutive scholastic years, copying all
documents bearing on Alexander VI, employing at times as many as five
secretaries. Besides the Vatican archives he examined also the State
archives of Italy, as well as the numerous libraries of Rome. He spent
his evenings making an analysis of the findings of the day, and in reading
printed literature on the subject in Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian,
German, French and English. Maintaining his headquarters in Rome,
Father De Roo visited Civita Castellana, Nepi and other places, where, as
Cardinal Borgia, Alexander VI, had acted as civil governor, and there the
author examined all municipal records of interest to the student of Alex-
ander VI. He extended his investigation to the cities of Gennazzano, Ti-
voli, and Frascati which Alexander had visited as Pope, and Subiaco,
where Alexander had been commendatory abbot during his eardinalate.
During the Roman summer vacations Father De Roo spent nine weeks
studying the archives of Vienna, four weeks making researches in Munich,
nine weeks in Paris, and one week in Brussels.
These investigations netted Father De Roo an aggregate of thirty-one
volumes of copied documents. Besides these he had gone through not less
than seven hundred volumes of printed literature, in various languages, on
Supplied with this wealth of information Father De Roo returned to
America in the spring of 1892. Since then he has given his leisure time
to this mass of documents, comparing, classifying, analyzing, translating.
In June 1908, he resigned the rectorship of St. Joseph's in Portland, to
which he had been promoted from Pendleton. For the last thirteen years
he has Jived in his quiet home in the outskirts of Portland, where through
the kindness of the Most Reverend Alexander Christie he has enjoyed the
great privilege of a private chapel, devoting all his free time to the ex-
clusive study of Alexander VI.
As a result of his thirty-two years of labor on Alexander VI Father
De Roo has now a monograph on this pope comprising five volumes of
typewritten matter, containing an average of four hundred small folio
The first volume, "The Borgia Family," gives the history of the rela-
tives of Alexander VI and, in particular, the history of the (legitimate
children of William Raymond Borgia, first cousin of Alexander VI, who
are erroneously attributed to Alexander VI himself by some leading
writers and an endless multiplicity of trailers.
The second volume, "Alexander VI from the Cradle to the Throne,"
treats of his youth, his cardinalate, and his election to the papacy. Ac-
cording to this vojume Roderic Borgia led his class in the school of Valen-
cia, Spain, where he studied Spanish, Latin, Mathematics and Religion.
At the University of Bologna, Italy, at the expiration of a regular course
in Civil and Canon Law, he graduated, not with the ordinary degree of
Doctor in Civil and Canon Law, but with the extraordinary title of "The
Most Excellent Jurist." In the entire period covering his youth there is
no record, no mention, no whisper, no vestige, of any shortcoming in his
moral conduct, in any authentic document or contemporary writing. On
the contrary, the various Papal Bulls, (at least two dozen in number be-
stowing benefices upon him as a help in the pursuit of his studies) in-
variably speak of him as an eminently virtuous young man.
As a Cardinal Roderic Borgia earned the esteem, confidence, and liberal
patronage of the five successive popes under whom he served. At the time
of the war with the Turks Cardinal Borgia built and equipped a galley.
To pay for this vessel he offered for sale the palace in which he lived, and
failing to sell, he was compelled to mortgage this valuable property. To
pay his living expenses at that time of money stringency he was forced to
hypothecate three years of revenue.
At his election to the papacy he went into the conclave without being
mentioned as a candidate. After five days of fruitless balloting the votes
were equally and hopelessly divided between two cardinals, neither of
whom seemed able to secure the necessary two-thirds of the votes. After
the balloting of the sixth morning the cardinals decided unanimously to
elect Cardinal Borgia the following day. There was but one dissenting
vote, that of Roderic Cardinal Borgia.
The volume pays due attention to the vile anonymous pamphlet
of unknown birthdate and birthplace, which has been extensively relied on
for information on Alexander VI by both friend and foe, for the last five
centuries. Father De Roo says that this is preposterous, because the
pamphlet repeatedly states facts utterly at variance with proven historical
data and are mutually contradictory. Thus, for instance, the pamphlet
alleges that Roderic Borgia was a merchant, a lawyer, a soldier in Spain,
whilst it is evident beyond the shadow of a doubt, from Pontifical Bulla
quoted by Father De Roo, that Roderic Borgia was at that very time pur-
suing his studies in Civil and Canon Law at the famous University of
The third volume treats of Alexander VI as Pope. It cites his acts to
preserve and propagate the faith, his reforms, and plans of further re-
forms of the Roman Curia, the monasteries, and Catholic institutions gen-
erally, besides his defense of ecclesiastical rights and papal authority.
It gives the documentary history of Jerome Savonarola, who died, in spite
of the pope, a victim of his political schemes. It is also quoted in this
volume how correctly and carefully Alexander VI applied the Church laws
on Matrimony, in particular regarding the so-called divorces of Stanis-
laus of Hungary, and Louis XII of Prance. After relating the various
ways and means adopted by the pontiff to stimulate virtues and foster
piety it closes with the history of the Sacred College and of a few rebel-
lious cardinals during his pontificate.
The fourth volume deals with the career of Alexander VI as a temporal
prince, his diplomacy with the courts of Europe, and his success in wars
against the many petty princes who tyranized their subjects.
The fifth volume makes known his assiduous efforts against the Turks,
the story of his death, his means of subsistence, or financial resources. The
penultimate chapter of this fifth volume contains a discussion of his mo-
rality as a youth, as cardinal, and chiefly as pope. It mentions the assurance
given by four cardinals to King Charles VIII, that, in the year 1495, the
pontiff was leading a life at least as holy as when he was unanimously
elected to the supreme pontificate. The article praises the Pope's unusual
activity, his extraordinary frugality, his boundless confidence in God, hi«
tender love of the Blessed Virgin, his faithful attendance at solemn func-
tions at St. Peter's, his special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, his love
for the beauty of God's house manifested by frequent personal donations,
his impartial justice towards his people, his charity towards the poor and
the needy, the encouragement he gave to learning, sciences and arts, his
fearless defense of the down-trodden. The chapter concludes by saying:
"It is no wonder, therefore, that the Romans, although fickle and easily
excited, never attempted to make any disturbance during all the years of
his administration. The works which Alexander VI accomplished prove
him to have been a great pope and king, and a father to his people."
The last chapter contains praises of Alexander VI by contemporary
In a letter to me under date of Nov. 28th, Father De Roo says that he
is considering having the book printed in Belgium because of the difference
Rt. Rev. Victor Day, V.G.,